Create Great HTML Classroom Newsletters for FREE with Google Sites

Recently, I came across a great Google script by Romain Vialard on how to create nice looking email newsletters from a Google Sites page. It is simple to do, requires no programming skills, and could be a great way to go paperless in the classroom. So, if you are an elementary teacher that sends home newsletters every week, or you are an administrator or a coach who needs to keep communication lines open with parents, read on.

The premise is simple. You build your newsletter by creating a page on a Google Site. If you already have a classroom website that is a Google Site, all the better, but otherwise, you can create a Google Site for free with a Google Account. Then edit the page like you would with any other page, but consider some creative layouts like the three column layout with a header and footer.

Google Sites Newsletter

You can insert images and hyperlinks with ease. Embedded videos do not work when delivered as email, but you can take a screenshot of the video and link that image to the online version of the video, or add a link to say watch the video here. Of course, you can add as much text as you want, and rich text formatting will be retained.

Once your page is complete, it is time to send it to your readers. Install the free Chrome Newsletter Creator app, or visit Romain’s website, and paste the link to your page into the newsletter script. Add the email addresses of the recipients, choose whether or not you want to add a record of your email to a Google Spreadsheet, and click Send.

Initially I had some issues with adding recipients to the text box, because it did not deliver the newsletter to all the email address I added. However, if you click the spreadsheet icon to the right of the text box (see below) you can select a Google Spreadsheet that you have pasted the email addresses into, and use that as your mailing list. This worked much better for me with larger numbers of recipients.

newsletter creator

In no time at all, you can check your email to find the finished product. It looks great in Gmail and most other clients. The page title is used for the subject title of the email, and the rest is neatly packaged into a professional looking HTML newsletter that you created with little effort and no cost.

gmail classroom newsletter

Of course, you could take this one step further and use a freely available HTML newsletter template from the web, paste the code into the HTML box in  a Google Site, and use that as a template for an even nicer looking custom newsletter. I tried it, and it worked pretty well. You don’t need to know any HTML code to edit the content, but if you want to tweak any of the colors or design, it would be useful. You can see a video demo of Romain’s script below.

If, like me, you spend a lot of your time using Google Apps, you may well have forgotten most of the intricacies of how to use Publisher or Word for newsletters, but Google Sites is easy to learn. So, why not give it a try? Feel free to leave your thoughts on this tool below.

5 MORE Chromebook Tips for Teachers

Lots of people enjoyed my previous post with 5 Chromebook Tips for Teachers, so I decided to follow it up with five MORE quick tips that will help you start the school year in the best possible way with Chromebooks. So, see the presentation below for more Chrome OS tricks.

Tips include…

  1. Taking Chromebook screenshots
  2. How to access your Mac or PC from your Chromebook
  3. Printing with Chromebooks
  4. How to connect your Chromebook to a projector
  5. The Hapara Teacher Dashboard

And, if you haven’t seen it already, you may want to check our a previous presentation I did that was a Chromebook 101 for Teachers. Feel free to leave any tips of your own in the comments below.

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What’s New for Schools with the Latest Google Drive Update for iOS?

Google has updated its iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch version of Google Drive with a clean new interface and a few new features ahead of the impending introduction of the new iOS 7 operating system for Apple’s mobile devices. So, what’s new and what’s still to come? Let’s find out.

Google Drive iPad App Update

What’s new for educators?

Visually, users will notice an immediate change in the layout and feel of the new Google Drive app. It now mimics many of the features you find on the Android app and you can view your files and folders as a list or a grid. The details panel is all new, and includes an image preview of your file at the top. From this panel, you can now copy the link to any document so that you can paste it into another document, app or email. Finally, there is an update for Google Presentation files. You still cannot create or edit these files, but there is a new viewer complete with speaker notes, a slide sorter view, and a true full screen mode.

Google Drive for iOS

What teachers still need

We badly need  support for tables. Why has this taken so long? Android users have it, but iOS users can’t view or edit tables and this can be a major inconvenience. I’d also love to see more sharing options. Why can’t we share documents as “anyone with the link”? Better still, why can’t Google Apps for Education users have domain sharing options to share files with everyone in their organization? And what about Google Presentations or Google Forms? Can we expect to see those added any time soon?

Conclusion

Overall, I love the update. I like the cleaner look, the ability to copy links and the nice new viewer for Presentations, but Google Apps for Education users will continue to seek further updates to increase efficiency with Drive on the iPad in the classroom. Let’s hope that comes sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, be sure to check out my guide to a Paperless iPad Classroom with the Google Drive app. It has been updated to include screenshots from the latest version of the Drive app.

5 Chromebook Tips for Teachers

Chromebooks seem to be the hot new device that everyone is talking about, so if you are lucky enough to be starting the school year with some of Google’s laptops, check out the quick presentation below that has 5 Chromebooks tips especially for teachers. The tips include…

  1. Saving to Google Drive instead of the Files app
  2. A new full screen mode for the latest version of Chrome OS
  3. The Screen Magnifier that lets you zoom in on specific parts of your screen
  4. Enabling Caps Lock on a Chromebook
  5. Help with Offline Apps that make your Chromebook more versatile

You may also want to check out a previous post I did that was a Chromebook 101 for Teachers, and if you liked this, be sure to click through to see the followup to this post that has 5 MORE Chromebook Tips for Teachers.

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How to Add Favicons to Google Sites

Some time ago, I talked about how to add an Apple Touch Icon to a Google Site. Today I want to show you how to add favicons to a Google Site. It is quick, easy, and a fun way to add some extra style to your website.

What is a Favicon? A favicon is a small icon associated with a website that you will see on every tab, and/or in the address bar next to the URL, depending on what browser you use. You can make your own favicon with any number of free favicon generators out there, but sometimes I just like to head over to FreeFavicon.com and download one of their free, ready-made favicons.

free favicon.com

Once you have the image you want, you first need to make sure that you have the filename correct. Google Sites only recognize favicons that are named favicon.ico. If you have it named as anything else, you will need to rename the file first, otherwise the standard Google Sites favicon will remain.

Next, go to More > Manage Site > Attachments > Upload and select your favicon. After that, you are done. You should see the favicon appear on the tab at the top of the page, or in the address bar of your browser within seconds.

upload favicon google sites

It is a very quick tweak, but another way that you can build Google Sites that don’t look like Google Sites. For a video walkthrough of this process, you can watch the awesome Stacy Behmer below:

A Chromebook 101 for Teachers: What’s All the Fuss About?

iowa-mini-summit

Considering Chromebooks? You’re not the only one! The Chromebook in Education revolution is finding its way into more and more schools across the country.  So, in my third presentation at the Iowa Mini Google Summit I decided to do a session that outlined the basic pros and cons of Chromebooks in schools in order to help answer any lingering questions.

People have strong opinions on Chromebooks. Some dismiss them as nothing more than a browser, others herald it as a fast, low cost, easy to manage device of the future. But I think it is important we don’t get too bogged down with pitting one device against another (as I often see in Chromebook vs iPad Twitter or blog posts).

The important thing, with any device that a school chooses, is whether or not it will support and enhance student learning in your school district? Will it do what you want your students to do on it? Can it help move teacher instruction beyond its current limits? In the right environment, and with good professional development, Chromebooks are an awesome device for schools, of that I have no doubt. But there are a number of other devices that can be just as good, or better, given the climate and circumstances of your school district.

So, feel free to take a look at the slideshow below, and the resources that it has for using Chromebooks in education. If you have any questions, feel free to add them to the comments below and I will do my best to answer them in any way I can.

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Pimp My Site: Customization Options for Google Sites

iowa-mini-summit

Recently, I shared the first of my three presentations at the Iowa Mini Google Summit – Editing Video Online with the YouTube Editor. Today, I am sharing the second – Pimp My Site: Customization Options for Google Sites. It’s an exploration of the ways in which you can make a Google Site easier on the eye, and less like a stock Google Site.

I have grown to love Google Sites. They are easy for students and teachers to build and maintain, but they are also easy to tweak…if you know where to look. They don’t have to look like a stock Google Site if you learn a few simple tricks. It takes a little bit of time to apply all these tweaks, but once you start using them, you will get faster, and you will get more adventurous with ideas of your own.

One of my favorite things to do when I find a truly awesome Google Site is to try and backwards engineer it. How did they do that header? How did they make the navigation so elegant? How can I get a background like that? I would encourage you to do just that. At the same conference, one of my colleagues made a one page Google Site for their session handout. He stripped out all navigation, and had a simple two color palette. It was clean, simple and elegant. I love coming across new ways of doing things, and for me this was a great example of that.

So, take a look at the slideshow below and see if you can apply any of these tips to your own Google Site. Together we can make the web more beautiful! 🙂

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How to Use Comments on the Google Drive iPad App

I’ve spent a few days playing with a great new addition to the Google Drive iPad app – comments! They can be used to share ideas with other collaborators or as a way of grading student work. So, if you haven’t had time to try them out yet, here’s how they work.

Add Comments Google Drive iPad App

  1. To insert a comment, tap in the document to leave a general comment, or select the specific words that you want the comment to be linked to by pressing and holding to select text.
  2. Next tap the comment button next to the title of the document at the top of your screen, or select “Comment” from the pop-up box above selected text.
  3. A comment box will appear in the top right hand corner, where you can type in your comment.
  4. This comment will now be visible to others who share the document (such as your collaborators or the student who turned in the assignment) although the comment(s) will not display when the document is printed.
  5. Collaborators (students, you, etc.) can reply to any comment by typing in the box labeled “Reply to this comment…”
  6. You can also tap the pencil to “Edit” your existing comment, or to “Delete” it.
  7. Finally you can tap “Resolve” to close the comment from further replies.

Google Drive iPad Comments

Are you using Google Drive on your Android phone or tablet? If so, you’ll be glad to know that comments work there too and you should be able to follow the instructions above to get them to work almost exactly the same way on those devices.

8 Ways for Students and Teachers to Create an Event in Google Calendar

Google Calendar is a mainstay app of many teachers because of its scheduling abilities, reminders, and easy access across all devices. It is used for sharing assignments with students, scheduling district events, planning lessons, and even scheduling parent teacher conferences. However, it all starts with creating an event. Here are eight ways to create an event in Google Calendar.

1. Create button

For beginners, this is where to start. The big red Create button in the top left hand corner of the page is the default way for many who are wanting to create new events. Clicking it opens up a calendar dialog menu where you can add as much detail as you like, as well as invite others to your event.

Create button

2. Quick Add

If you know the lingo, the quick add can be a great way to quickly add an event to your calendar. If you click the white drop down arrow next to the red Create button you can type a short sentence that includes what your event is, when it will happen and even where it will happen and with who. Google does the rest, and translates your sentence into a calendar event. Once you get the hang of it, this is actually a very efficient way of creating Google calendar events.

Quick Add a Calendar Event

3. Click and Drag

If I am honest, this is the one I use most. For me it is the most intuitive and its a habit I would probably find hard to break! All you do is move your mouse over the main calendar page and click and drag on a day to mark the time slot you want to schedule. In the pop-up window, add the name of the event in the What box. Need to add more information, click the Edit event button for the full event page details.

Click and drag a calendar event

4. Right Click a Calendar

On the left hand side of your Google Calendar is a list of all the calendars you created and subscribe too. If you hover over a calendar you created, and click the arrow next to it, you will see a pop-up box that will allow you the option to “Create event on this calendar”. You can also choose a color for your calendar in this window to help you better tell the difference between multiple calendars at a glance.

Create event in Google Calendar

5. Create in Gmail

Ever wished you could save the contents of an email straight to your calendar? Well, you can if you use Gmail. Simply open the email, then click the More button and select Create event. This will take the content of the email and add it to an event window in a new tab. Simply customize the date and time accordingly and your email is now a calendar event!

Create an event from Gmail

6. Create in Gmail II

Last week, Google announced a new feature in Gmail that will let you add calendar events straight from an email simply by hovering your mouse over a date and time that Gmail recognizes as a possible event for your calendar. It has not rolled out to everyone yet, but will be coming soon if you don’t already have it. There is no word as to whether or not this will eventually replace the method above, but if you are used to doing this kind of thing on your iPad using the native Mail app, you will be right at home with this method.

Adding Google calendar events

7.The Keyboard Shortcut

Not everybody is a fan of keyboard shortcuts. They can be hard to remember, but the keyboard shortcut for adding an event to a Google calendar is very simple. When you have your Google Calendar open, simply type the letter ‘C’ on your keyboard to add a new event. ‘C’ is for create, so this one is easy to remember! For more keyboard shortcuts, see Google’s Calendar basics page.

8. Chrome Calendar Extension

You can download the Chrome Calendar extension from the Chrome Web Store for free. Once installed, you simply click the calendar icon in your menu bar and then click the plus sign to add an event. This is useful when you don’t have Calendar open among the tabs you are working with, and can also be used to quickly check on upcoming events.

Google Calendar Extension

Do you have a favorite way to add a calendar event that is not listed above? Feel free to add it to the comments below.

Google+ Comes to K-12 School Domains

Google announced today that their social network platform, Google+, is now going to be available for K-12 schools. Previously it was only available for businesses and government organizations. Google+ is similar to Facebook, but works on the premise that you sort the people you follow into circles. You can share information, links or media with circles of your choice.

Embedded within Google+ are the popular Hangouts – a video conferencing tool that lets you host multiple people at once in the same video call. Part of the announcement today was that Google has raised the limit on the number of people you can have in a Hangout. You can now have up to 15 people on the same call! The Hangouts have lots of built-in extras like screensharing, doc sharing, visual effects, and more. They can be scheduled in Google Calendar or joined right from Gmail.

Google+

Lots of Google based schools have been wanting to add Google+ to their arsenal of Google tool because the potential it has for the classroom could be huge. When you couple the Docs suite of tools with Google+, you could have something akin to an all-in-one learning management system that students could use to complete assignments and participate in class discussions.

Google+ should be available to all Google Apps schools in the next few days. Will you be among those first in line to put it to use, or are you waiting to see how others implement it in their schools? Leave a comment below.